With the House poised to consider a string of cybersecurity bills on Thursday, lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee warned of the threat of cyberattack from Iran.
“If Iran is willing to blow up a Washington restaurant and kill innocent Americans, we would be naive to think Iran would never conduct a cyberattack against the U.S. homeland,” said Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee Chairman Pat Meehan, R-Pa., alluding to a plot last year to kill a Saudi ambassador in D.C.
Meehan held a joint hearing with the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., whose cybersecurity bill failed to make it to the House floor this week.
Witnesses said that the increasing tensions between the United States and its allies and Iran increase the risk of increased cyberattacks.
“The possibility that Iran may feel aggrieved and seek to retaliate, even in the absence of proof of attribution, is not to be dismissed — particularly against the backdrop of ever-tougher U.S. and global sanctions, and historically turbulent (at least as measured in decades) bilateral relations with the United States,” Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, told the joint panel in prepared testimony.
He said that Iran or other countries or groups may see cyberspace as a place to attack the United States in ways that they may not be able to otherwise. “Cyberspace largely levels the playing field, allowing individuals and small groups to have disproportionate impact,” Cilluffo said.
Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, agreed. Iranian officials already believe that the U.S. and other countries have launched a cyberwar, and Iran is working to develop its cyber capabilities, he said.
“Conventional wisdom suggests that the Iranian regime, now being squeezed significantly by sanctions from the United States and Europe and grappling with significant domestic socioeconomic malaise, is far from an imminent threat to the American homeland,” Berman said. “Yet, over the past three years, the Iranian regime has invested heavily in both defensive and offensive capabilities in cyberspace. Equally significant, its leaders now increasingly appear to view cyberwarfare as a potential avenue of action against the United States.”